Wednesday, April 26, 2023

A Garage, Brazil, and a Stieglitzian "Equivalent"

"Harry Tuttle: Harry Tuttle. Heating engineer. At your service.
Sam Lowry: Tuttle? Are you from Central Services? I called Central Services.
Harry Tuttle: Ha!
Sam Lowry: But... I called Central Services.
Harry Tuttle: They're a little overworked these days. Luckily I intercepted your call...Officially, only Central Service operatives are supposed to touch this stuff...
Sam Lowry: Sorry. Wouldn't it be easier just to work for Central Services?
Harry Tuttle: Couldn't stand the paperwork. Yes, there's more bits of paper in Central Services than bits of pipe read this, fill in that, hand in the other listen, this old system of yours could be on fire and I couldn't even turn on the kitchen tap without filling in a 27B/6...Bloody paperwork.
Sam Lowry: I suppose one has to expect a certain amount.
Harry Tuttle: Why? I came into this game for the action, the excitement. Go anywhere, travel light, get in, get out, wherever there's trouble, a man alone. Now they got the whole country sectioned off, you can't make a move without a form...Ah ha! Found it! There's your problem.
Sam Lowry: Can you fix it?
Harry Tuttle: No, I can't. But I can bypass it with one of these.
[Holds up a bizarre device]
Harry Tuttle: My good friends call me Harry."

- Brazil (1985),
 Screenplay by Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard & Charles McKeown

Postscript. I have written before about the mystery of what "sits behind" (and directs) the eye/I/camera to see and take a photograph; and about the equally mysterious joy of just going with the flow of it all. Why do some scenes/compositions attract our attention while we walk past others as if sleepwalking through a void? While it is easy to overthink (even obsess) about seeing, interpreting, and composing - which only disrupts the natural flow - indulging in an occasional self-reflection can also reveal a part of the creative process. In my case, I've always had a penchant for making split-second associations with something either imagined or recalled). What I don't know is whether my inner musings are synchronous-with, antecedent-of, or follow my photographer-self's gaze? I've no doubt experienced each of these variants countless times, but the question of what really happens remains a deep mystery to me. But I have also grown to savor this mystery whenever it presents itself, as it did this weekend, when my wife and I parked our car in a garage before going to see a play in Washington, DC. As I closed my door, and for whatever reason, the vista of pipes, lights, and soiled concrete that met my gaze conjured up a scene from the absurdist Monty-Pythonesque-movie "Brazil" wherein Robert De Niro (playing a character named "Harry Tuttle," who is part heating engineer and part special forces operative) breaks into the Sam Lowry's apartment (Sam is the "hero," played by Jonathan Pryce), and rips apart a section of Sam's wall to expose a bizarre mass of writhing, all-but-living, pipes and electrical conduits! So, there I stood transfixed beside our car, my mind a blank (with a silly grin on my face), mentally replaying what I could remember from this scene from Brazil. The image you see up above is my attempt at using my iPhone to record a Stieglitzian "equivalent" of what I was experiencing while gazing at the vista of pipes, lights, and soiled concrete in a Washington, DC garage 😊

Monday, April 24, 2023

A Universe Comes into Being

"A universe comes into being when a space is severed or taken apart. The skin of a living organism cuts off an outside from an inside. So does the circumference of a circle in a plane. By tracing the way we represent such a severance, we can begin to reconstruct, with an accuracy and coverage that appear almost uncanny, the basic forms underlying linguistic, mathematical, physical, and biological science, and can begin to see how the familiar laws of our own experience follow inexorably from the original act of severance. The act is itself already remembered, even if unconsciously, as our first attempt to distinguish different things in a world where, in the first place, the boundaries can be drawn anywhere we please. At this stage the universe cannot be distinguished from how we act upon it, and the world may seem like shifting sand beneath our feet.

Although all forms, and thus all universes, are possible, and any particular form is mutable, it becomes evident that the laws relating such forms are the same in any universe. It is this sameness, the idea that we can find a reality independent of how the universe actually appears, that lends such fascination to the study of mathematics. That mathematics, in common with other art forms, can lead us beyond ordinary existence, and can show us something of the structure in which all creation hangs together, is no new idea. But mathematical texts generally begin the story somewhere in the middle, leaving the reader to pick up the threads as best he can. Here is the story traced from the beginning."

G. Spencer Brown (1923 - 2016)
Laws Of Form 

Postscript. This simple "point and shoot" image (albeit with an assist from Photoshop's perspective-crop tool) was taken with my iPhone as my wife and I were waiting for yesterday's matinee of Les Mesirables to start at the Kenney Center in Washington, DC. I have been drawn to mirrors and reflections ever since my teenaged-self stumbled across their deep mysteries through Borges' stories. Objectively speaking, the image is composed of nothing but metal, glass, some branches and leaves, and just a hint of a massive chandelier hanging just inside the Kennedy Center. But, as all Borgesian souls know, this "objectively banal reality" is but a shadow of the dynamic undulating froth of invisible universes! The first step toward catching a glimpse of these other realities is - as G. Spencer Brown reminds us - to draw a subjective distinction.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Connection, Resemblance and Order

"The aspect of external nature, as it presents itself in its generality to thoughtful contemplation, is that of unity in diversity, and of connection, resemblance and order, among created things most dissimilar in their form; — one fair harmonious whole. To seize this unity and this harmony, amid such an immense assemblage of objects and forces — to embrace alike the discoveries of the earliest ages and those of our own time — and to analyse the details of phenomena without sinking under their mass — are efforts of human reason, in the path wherein it is given to man to press towards the full comprehension of nature, to unveil a portion of her secrets, and, by the force of thought, to subject, so to speak, to his intellectual dominion, the rough materials which he collects by observation."

Alexander von Humboldt (1769 - 1859)
Cosmos: A Sketch of the Physical Description of the Universe

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Serene Illumination

"Serene illumination, or just sitting, is not a technique, or a means to some resulting higher state of consciousness, or any particular state of being. Just sitting, one simply meets the immediate present. Desiring some flashy experience, or anything more or other than 'this' is mere worldly vanity and craving... Just sitting does not involve reaching some understanding. It is the subtle activity of allowing all things to be completely at rest just as they are, not poking one's head into the workings of the world."

John Daido Loori (1931 - 2009)
 The Art of Just Sitting

Monday, March 06, 2023

Cartesian Fallacy

"The universe is wider than our views of it."

Henry David Thoreau (1817 - 1862)

"Logic does not lead us from the fact that we are an integral part of the web of life to certain norms of how we should live. However, if we have the deep ecological experience of being part of the web of life, then we will (as opposed to should) be inclined to care for all of living nature. Indeed, we can scarcely refrain from responding in this way. 

By calling the emerging new vision of reality 'ecological' in the sense of deep ecology, we emphasize that life is at its very center. This is an important issue for science, because in the mechanistic paradigm physics has been the model and source of metaphors for all other sciences. 'All philosophy is like a tree,' wrote Descartes. 'The roots are metaphysics, the trunk is physics, and the branches are all the other sciences.'

The systems view of life has overcome this Cartesian metaphor. Physics, together with chemistry, is essential to understand the behavior of the molecules in living cells, but it is not sufficient to describe their self-organizing patterns and processes. At the level of living systems, physics has thus lost its role as the science providing the most fundamental description of reality. This is still not generally recognized today. Scientists as well as nonscientists frequently retain the popular belief that 'if you really want to know the ultimate explanation, you have to ask a physicist,' which is clearly a Cartesian fallacy. The paradigm shift in science, at its deepest level, involves a perceptual shift from physics to the life sciences."

Fritjof Capra (1939 - ) and Pier Luigi Luisi (1938 - )
The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision

"Nature is an infinite sphere
whose center is everywhere and
whose circumference is nowhere."

Blaise Pascal (1623 - 1662)

Sunday, March 05, 2023

The Mind of Some Eternal Spirit

"When scientists study the world of phenomena, the shadows which nature throws onto the wall of our cave, they do not find these shadows totally unintelligible, and neither do they seem to represent unknown or unfamiliar objects. Rather, it seems to me, we can recognize chess players outside in the sunshine who appear to be very well acquainted with the rules of the game as we have formulated them in our cave. To drop our metaphor, nature seems very conversant with the rules of pure mathematics as our mathematicians have formulated them in their studies, out of their own inner consciousness and without drawing to any appreciable extent on their experience of the outer world.
And now it emerges that the shadow-play which we describe as the fall of an apple to the ground, the ebb and flow of the tides, the motion of electrons in the atom, are produced by actors who seem very conversant with these purely mathematical concepts-with our rules of our game of chess, which we formulated long before we discovered that the shadows on the wall were also playing chess.
When we try to discover the nature of the reality behind the shadows, we are confronted with the fact that all discussion of the ultimate nature of things must necessarily be barren unless we have some extraneous standards against which to compare them. For this reason, to borrow Locke's phrase, "the real essence of substances" is forever unknowable. We can only progress by discussing the laws which govern the changes of substances, and so produce the phenomena of the external world. These we can compare with the abstract creations of our own minds.
It does not matter whether objects 'exist in my mind, or that of any other created spirit' or not; their objectivity arises from their subsisting 'in the mind of some Eternal Spirit.'"

- Sir James Jeans (1877 - 1946)
The Mysterious Universe

Saturday, March 04, 2023

The Celestial Way

"So it is said, the life of the sage follows the celestial way, and in death he dissolves and merges with all things. In stillness he is at one with the virtue of yin; in movement he flows with yang. He does not bring fortune and does not cause misfortune. He only responds when external circumstances call for it. He only acts when pushed. He only rises up when there is no other alternative. He throws away the whys and wherefores, and follows the celestial way. Therefore, he does not meet with disaster. Nor is he burdened by material things. He is not slandered by people nor punished by the spirits. He floats with life and rests with death. He does not worry and does not scheme. He is like light that does not dazzle. Completely trustworthy, he does not need to make promises. His sleep is dreamless and his waking hours are free from worry. His spirit is pure and his soul is not tired. In emptiness, nothingness, and simplicity, he is in harmony with the celestial way."

Chuang Tzu (c.369 B.C. - c.286 B.C.)
Translation in Teachings of the Tao by Eva Wong